A pair of philosophers teamed up with a beautiful food website and a fancy coffee shop to bring some experimental philosophy to the people.
Shen-yi Liao (Leeds, soon Puget Sound) and Aaron Meskin (Leeds) served members of the public coffee at Laynes Espresso to investigate whether first-hand experience is required to judge something’s taste and whether knowledge of a coffee’s moral status makes any difference to the way we experience its flavor. You can read about the experiments and their findings at Food&.
Among other things, the authors take this work to be an interesting and interactive version of public philosophy:
Recent years have… witnessed a renewed interest in doing ‘public philosophy’—philosophers getting out there and engaging with the public rather than just staying inside the so-called ivory tower. We fully support this trend. But we think that typical public philosophy efforts (op-ed pieces, public lectures) suffer from some drawbacks. In the first place, they tend to be a pretty much one-way affairs (i.e., the philosopher writes or speaks, the public reads or listens). And in the second place, they tend to be largely distinct from philosophical research—the philosopher does her research first and then transmits the results of that research to the public. Neither seems ideal for getting the public to really engage with philosophical issues.
We think our coffee events show that there is another way of doing public philosophy that avoids those drawbacks. Using experimental methods might allow for a high degree of public participation and interaction. And conducting studies in public, even informal ones, might help to close the gap between research and public engagement. If we get to talk about the subtleties of coffee with other aficionados while doing all that, well, that’s a nice bonus.
Yes, all very good. But now it is time to make Sweet Potato Hotcakes with Cashew Cream, Maple Bananas, and Coconut Bacon.
Other ideas for food- and drink-based philosophy outreach are welcome. (As are coffee-oriented philosophy puns.)